Large Coast Live Oak and Labor Extortion at Kimura Nursery

I was recently offered a spot in a Will Baddeley workshop. Bob informed me that some space was open and in lieu of the workshop fee I could also trade in work. I didn’t have $200, but with the onset of spring break I did have time. With a few trees that could use carving as well as an opportunity to meet more members of the bonsai community I gladly accepted. I spent the last few days working at his nursery doing anything asked of me. If I could sum up the 15 or so hours of work in one word–deweeding.

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In seriousness it was good to spend some time outside and I enjoyed talking to Audrey and Bob. I will be attending the Sunday April 16th workshop and look forward to meeting those there.

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Great weather on the days I came

Anyhow on to the tree. Winter of 2015 I picked up a large coast live oak from Barry Altshule. I visited his home and was able to get first pick before he brought the trees to that year’s GSBF Convention. It had good character, gnarly deadwood, and decent taper. All in all it looked like an interesting tree and I picked it up.

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As seen in the picture, the whole front of the tree died off at some point. The heath of the tree as purchased wasn’t the best either and lacked a lot of foliage. .This was caused by borers of which were still in the tree! In the successive growing season I had to treat the tree with a systemic as well as physically removing the borers and treating the points of entry. After a year and a half of strong growth I can confidently say that the borers are gone and the tree is healthy.

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Tons of character on the wood. These trees were collected and the slow growth with subsequent weathering produced gorgeous deadwood.

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There was also significant dieback at the top of the tree as seen by the “L” shaped line. Despite the tree’s character and nice deadwood there were many design challenges. For one the tree lacked good primary branching not to mention the awkward transition to the apex as well as random bulges on the back. The tree was fed well to prepare for the major repotting.

Oaks being a semi-evergreen tree hold their leaves year round. This makes repotting difficult and many have reported losing their trees post repot. I was advised to defoliate the tree prior to repotting as to avoid transpiration loss and presumably a weak or dead tree.

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The tree responded well and leafed out 1-2 weeks later. The top chop would be carved and and some preliminary wiring was done. In retrospect I should have cut back the front branch at this time to get better budding closer to the tree. But given that it was weak and had borers I feared the front of the tree dying and losing the bridge of live tissue between the top cut and the main deadwood.

Anyhow here is the tree several months later having pruned unnecessary branching as well as wiring some primary branching in place. As far as cut-backs for oaks the best time is mid-late winter right before the buds start swelling, and right after peak summer temperatures when (at least for coast live oaks) begin a second strong flush.

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Spring 2016

I missed the window to do cut backs on the larger primary branches due to my concerns of dieback. Due to my impatience I cut back the front branch with poor timing. It did throw out one tiny bud, but it was burned up in the heat. Fortunately I was able to get some side primary branching going.

Here is a shot of the branch structure developed at this time:

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Late spring 2016

With several months of strong growth primary branches thickened substantially.

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Summer 2016

From my brief experience, coast live oaks develop SUPER fast in Socal. All the branching in this photo was developed from scratch.

At this point development was done for the year and I fed the tree aggressively to prepare for the big cut-backs to be done

I cut the tree back some time in late January. Just before the tree starts sending up sugars so food would not be allocated to branches that would be thrown away.

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Exposed

A few weeks later

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Fast forward nearly 2 months later it it became a head of green.

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Yes leaves and outer nodes are monstrous, but the node length for the first few pairs are short and usable. I tried out these dried hard balls of composted chicken poo and turns out they had much more nitrogen than I anticipated. Thankfully it was slow release so my initial growth didn’t come out with poor internodal length.

Unfortunately I did not get buds directly on the big branches I cut back. I did however get plenty of buds near it and opted to approach graft branching in place. My top side branch was removed entirely and will allow an adjacent shoot to fill in the space.

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It’s a bit chaotic but I will be allowing the new growth to grow unrestricted until late summer when I do the cut backs. This will help me thicken my primary branches and give strong back budding when I do the cuts.

On the tree I did a total of 3 approach grafts. One in the front and 2 in the back. Unfortunately the front stub is dead but the cambium behind it bridging the gap between the top chop and front deadwood is alive and strong. Meaning graftable.

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Cut is probably too deep

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Few dormant buds on my branch that should wake up after cut backs

Not the cleanest grafts but I have confidence in them. As long the cambium underneath is alive and strong the branch should eventually fuse as it thickens up. Least I’m counting on it.

Here is the finished tree post spring styling. Extensions will be cut back and after a year the basic form of the tree will be set! Hard to believe it has developed this much in under 2 years. It’s hard to see the form with all the leaves but I will post an update when I do my cut back later this year.

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Syringe is for the tree, not me

A quick before and after showcasing the current progress:

Thanks for taking a look and I hope you’ve the read. Feel to leave me any comments. Have a great day! 🙂

 

Here is a more updated picture of the tree from April:

It is healthy and developing well.

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Fall 2017:

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Windswept Kishu Shimpaku

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Before
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After

I acquired a new tree, a kishu shimpaku, from Bob Pressler discussed here. I had wired most of the tree during the recent Bonsai-a-thon but was unable to style it until now.

I’ve had a few major wiring projects this past winter but for the most part have little experience shaping junipers. That said this project proved particularly challenging and took me a fair amount of time to set on a design path and execute it.

My criteria for styling the tree was as follows:

  • Use as much of the tree as possible
  • No grafting
  • Good silhouette and structure not dependent on foliage

In short I wanted the best design possible utilizing the qualities of the tree. With that in mind I had several options. Semi-cascade and windswept were the obvious ones with literati if I wanted to get really creative. Literati required that I have a good trunk line and interesting movement. I’m not the best with virts but they do call me the MS paint master. Here are the main trunks highlighted:

juniper trunk line

For literati I could remove and jin the larger lower trunk utilizing the top one. The trunk line seemed interesting enough but I lacked good branch options. Overall it would be a difficult design to pull off and would entail removing most of the tree. Plan scrapped!

I went back to drawing board. I wanted to do windswept but I was extremely cautious in doing so. Based off images of windswept bonsai and actual tree I found it crucial that the “windswept” quality be conveyed in every part of the tree–from the trunk line, branches, and the foliage.

Here is a nice article with images discussing this point: Bonsai Bark Windswept Critique

I was not confident in pulling it off so ultimately (at that time) I decided to run with semi-cascade. I began wiring out the lowest layer of branching and all looked good. Then I ran into a huge dilemma. Everything in the mid section was extremely leggy. I looked into folding the apex over itself or other hefty bends but new changes constantly led to new compromises. It was looking grim.

I then asked myself how could I utilize these leggy branches in my design? I recalled in many images of windswept trees branches oriented towards the wind would be swept back–not only lending interesting movement, but effectively shortening the branch. Here is an image uploaded by Boon with a juniper I stole from this Bonsai Bark article: http://bonsaibark.com/page/97/

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Image does not belong to me

I decided windswept would be the way to go and went on with the plan. In order to convey this image and to perpetuate the windswept quality throughout the whole tree I wired the tree with an imaginary wind in mind. In reference to images of my trees imagine a wind blowing from right to left. This means that any growth initiating towards the right, up, or down, would be swept back and consequently wired in the opposite direction. I tried to follow this pattern as much as possible throughout the entire tree to create better cohesion.

On a side note, the best times to wire junipers is generally in the winter. Because of the reduced flow of sap, bark is less turgid and constricts around the branch more tightly. Meaning that when wiring the bark is less inclined to split. In the below image the cambium of that branch split a good deal. It may not be necessary but I decided to treat it as a graft and put a little baggy on it to ensure I don’t lose the branch.

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Growth exiting right side is swept under the branch to the left
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Foliage is kept in same orientation throughout the entire tree
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Same idea as in first image

Because the lower large trunk was nearly horizontal I opted for an angle that at least to me, would provide more realistic movement. I used guy wires to maximize my bends on the large trunk while the larger wire and raffia proved sufficient in bringing the top trunk down. All growth on the right side of the tree, although minimal, was removed and jinned. Any super leggy branches were jinned as well and even wired with the same aforementioned movement.

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progress picture

I cleaned up the apex and jinned any excess branching. I still have trouble capturing depth in my pictures and the overlay of branching can create clutter on a flat image. Here are shots of the finished tree in different lighting.

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The back of tree needs to fill in and after more growth I can continue to refine the foliage. The mid section does look a bit chaotic but will look better in successive stages of refinement.

Next year I will begin work on the root ball to accommodate the angle change and maybe a new pot. I’m thinking of adding shari on the backside and should fit well with the windswept design. Here is a rough virt of what I have in mind.

windswept kishu

All in all I am satisfied with the styling but will listen to any suggestions or critique (hopefully not too negative) anyone has to offer. Working on this tree really tested my creativity and gave me lots of practice on styling junipers.

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Bonsai-a-thon XXI: New friends and stories

Last weekend I was able to attend the 21st Bonsai-a-thon hosted at the Huntington Gardens. It was a good opportunity to meet members of the bonsai community and to check out some rad trees! I was only able to stay for a few hours Saturday and for the first half on Sunday. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the event for the time I was able to attend.

Meeting new people is my weak suit, so it was great for me make some bonsai friends.

Day 1:

I had missed the demonstrations in the morning but still was able to check out the displayed trees and vendors. The display was hosted by the Viet Bonsai Society for this years show and the quality of the trees were superb. I saw many familiar faces and vendors including Frank Yee, who has been very nice to me since I joined up with Santa Anita Bonsai Society and Barry Altshule who I grabbed a nice live oak from 2 years ago. No shots of vendors unfortunately but here are the trees:

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Jim Barrett elm donated to the Huntington Gardens
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Al Nelson coast live oak donated to gardens

During the first day I went to Dick Ryerson’s table and talked to him and Phil Hogan (correct me if I got his last name wrong). Dick shared an interesting story about a glaze with me. The so called “million dollar yellow.”

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A picture of the glaze I stole from the net

Glazes, or the finish put on pots, are a cumulation of chemistry, ingredients, and artistry. During the high firing process many metals or other components of the glaze oxidize changing in appearance and color. Variations are endless, but when done right you can make a pot of unrivaled character and beauty. For the same reason recipes for highly sought after glazes are often kept secret by the artist. For a particular pottist in China, that secrecy resulted in the recipe dying with him. To the Chinese government’s (or maybe a private company?) dismay, no one could reproduce the highly sought after yellow. Desperate to have the recipe again they offered $1,000,000 (yes, one million dollars) to anyone who could reproduce it. Potter Otto Heino and his wife would spend 15 years trying to reproduce the glaze, and was ultimately successful in doing so. Officials came to his home, confirmed that the glaze was indeed authentic, and paid him the 7 figure check. There was one caveat though–for as long as Heino was alive they could only buy the glaze from him, but would give the formula after his death.

The most amusing part comes next. Heino took that 7 figure sum, presumably an unheard of amount of money in the community he lived in, and deposited at this local bank. Word got around that Otto Heino had deposited a million dollars for “pot.” Yes…that kind of pot. Due to the misunderstanding the local police stormed into his home the following evening and tore up his place in search of the aforementioned “pot.” Goes to show how valuable “pot” can be.

I ended up buying a pot from Dick and put a nice small live oak in it. The tree in question is discussed in my previous post.

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Coast Live Oak in Ryerson pot

Day 2:

I was recommended by Dick and Phil to watch the Al Nelson’s demonstration on Sunday. Al’s an expert on developing live oak bonsai and was advised to talk to him. I arrived to the Huntington Gardens early Sunday morning with just that intention but ended up doing something entirely different.

One of the demonstrators was Bob Pressler. Bob’s a well known person in the local bonsai scene and owns Kimura Nursery in Northridge. I had just arrived at the demonstration room when Bob asked the onlookers for a volunteer. Surely, among the audience (most of whom are at least twice my age) had more experience with bonsai and was better suited to help out–but no one volunteered. I thought, “heck why not, it should be fun” and walked over to Bob’s table. For the next 3 hours I applied raffia and wire on a medium sized kishu juniper. Bob on the other hand was working on a bottle-brush (callistemon) tree.

Bob was donating the bottle-brush to the raffle while the kishu would be kept, only brought as a demonstration. As we were finishing up he turned over to me and asked, “do you know what we’re going to do with the tree?” Semi-cascade would be the obvious answer but Bob had mentioned he’d like to do something more interesting if possible, so I replied, “I don’t know.” He said, “you’re going to take it home.”

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Al Nelson, to be working on a group planting of pygmy cypress
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Lets take a look…
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“What have you done to my tree”

I never expected to participate in the demonstration, not to mention taking a tree home. Bob’s a pretty cool guy and I enjoyed talking to him. Working the tree as a “demonstrator” really enabled me to talk to other members of the bonsai community as well. I was approached by Helen Barrett and talked about cycling, bonsai, and her athletic feats. She later introduced me to her husband, Jim Barrett who makes awesome pots. All in all, it was a fun experience.

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This is the best shot of the tree I have for now. I will be styling it later this month and will post it up on my blog so be sure keep a look out.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my post and feel free to leave a comment. These posts really do take quite some time to make so a subscription would mean a lot.

Julian